Sydni Loudermilk, Savannah Mcaffrey, UiJin Park

Sydni Loudermilk, Savannah Mcaffrey and UiJin Park showcase items from Juniper James Bridal.

Wanting to provide an inclusive space for all couples getting married, Juniper James Bridal has a strong foundation built upon size inclusivity, LGBTQ+ celebration and cultural diversity.

Juniper James Bridal states that it provides a truly distinctive experience by offering exquisite service to all (gay, bisexual, gender fluid, straight, male, non-binary, female and all racial backgrounds) who walk through their door. The bridal shop is located at 275 E. King St., Suite D, in Boone, and Owner Lauren Gioscio said the store strives to set itself apart from other stores in the bridal business.

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Lauren started her journey in the wedding industry working as a salesperson at South’s Specialty Clothiers when she was 15 years old. She was later employed at Did Someone Say Party? while studying interior architecture at Appalachian State University. 

When Donna Cook, owner of Did Someone Say Party?, made the decision to close the shop, Lauren approached her with a desire to purchase the business. Donna ultimately decided to permanently close the location, but gave Lauren her blessing to embark on her own endeavor. She said there were several areas she wanted to improve upon and add to her expertise.

Juniper James Bridal now partners with OUT in the High Country (a local grassroots effort) and Pride Information Services (a North Carolina-based LGBTQ+ consulting firm) in order to gain a better understanding of how to best serve the LGBTQ+ community. It is important to the business to celebrate every kind of love with respect and understanding, she says.

“I have friends who are in the LGBTQ+ community who are not traditional brides, they are not traditional grooms, and I wanted them to have a place where they could come and feel like they could try on anything without judgement,” Lauren says. “We’ve had people who identify as male or present as male come in to try on gowns; we’ve had photoshoots with males wearing gowns with makeup ... and it is beautiful. We have had a really amazing response to that.”

Lauren further explains there is a stark difference between being LGBTQ+ tolerant and LGBTQ+ celebratory. People can tolerate several things but that does not necessarily mean that they love and celebrate them, she says.

“There is a huge difference, there is a difference between being nice and being kind,” Lauren says. “These are people who deserve to be celebrated not just tolerated.”

A new initiative between Lauren and other wedding vendors in the High Country is set to come to fruition in 2021. The project will be a LGBTQ+ celebratory-only vendor organization that will serve the LGBTQ+ wedding community. According to Lauren, the organization will feature wedding trade shows to showcase vendors and their products. Any vendors who would be included in this initiative would need to go through a strict vetting process. 

Vendors that Lauren identified as LGBTQ+ friendly are Fur and Lace Photography, Sarah Deshields of Enowen Photography, stylist Renee Chantel of Haus of Chantel, Orion School and Chapel and wedding planner Hosea House Collective. All of these businesses have Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

In addition to celebrating all types of love, Juniper James Bridal also celebrates and provides services to people of all sizes and body types.

Lauren says her goal by the end of 2021 is to carry high-end gowns in up to a Size 40. Currently, she has up to a Size 26 available at her shop.

“I do not feel I am doing anything revolutionary, but I do feel like I am filling a void that needs to be filled,” Lauren says.

Lauren adds that when she is recruiting models for styled shoots with gowns and accessories, she strives to be inclusive and photograph people of all sizes and ethnicities. As the High Country has a predominately white population, when planning or hosting photoshoots Lauren ensures that people of color are featured. She said this is important because the wedding industry can be whitewashed. 

When describing a typical Southern wedding, Lauren says those who grow up in the South have an idea of what their wedding should look like, either based on culture or religion. 

“Most of the people that I see who are same-sex and are in gay relationships and have gay weddings, they want that semblance of what people see as normal,” Lauren says. “There is the desire for a white wedding gown, there is the desire for the beautiful flowers. But there’s differences in that there are not just (women) on one side and just (men) on the other. It is a mix.”

She added that couples celebrating a LGBTQ+ wedding may have fewer rules they feel the need to follow in ceremonies. LGBTQ+  ceremonies are primarily about who is there to support them, not about how many people are standing on each side of the couple.

When asked about other traditional wedding practices, such as exchanging vows in relation to LGBTQ+ weddings, Lauren says at all weddings in general, more people prepare written vows. Overall, she said she sees the same type of love at heterosexual wedding ceremonies and during the exchanging of vows as she does at same-sex weddings.

“I do not see much of a difference, I just see the same love that I see anywhere else,” Lauren says about couples said exchanging vows at same-sex wedding ceremonies. “Possibly with more outward-like earnest, simply because they have really had to fight for this.”

For more information about Juniper James Bridal visit www.juniperjamesbridal.com, email hello@juniperjamesbridal.com or call (828) 719-6441. More information about Pride Information Services can be found at www.prideeducationservices.com. Visit outinthehighcountry.wordpress.com for Information about OUT in the High Country.

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